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Author Topic: Cutting less used stops in the new franchise?  (Read 14780 times)
Lee
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« on: December 23, 2011, 05:18:01 pm »

Section 7 "The service specification" contains a clear threat to the future of some branch line stations. Quote:

Quote from: Great Western Franchise Replacement consultation document
Should branch line services continue to call at all branch line stations, or could the needs of most passengers be better met by omission of some of the intermediate stops on some or all of the trains, so that the final destination is reached more quickly?

In conjunction with this, the following quote should be noted:

Quote from: Great Western Franchise Replacement consultation document
Following the responses to this consultation, an outline specification will be developed, tested by specialist advisors and formalised in the ITT, which is currently anticipated to be issued during May 2012.

Some of you may recall that "specialist advisors" tested an outline specification in the run-up to the current franchise being awarded. Interestingly their report, obtained by grahame as part of an FOI request in 2006, recommended the complete withdrawal of service calls from several "lightly-used" stations on a number of routes so that the final destination could be reached more quickly.

A cynic might argue that the only difference is that "specialist advisors" tested an outline specification before the (then) SRA consultation began, whereas this time round they will test an outline specification after the (now) DfT consultation ends. A cynic might further suggest that the results of the consultation could give a mandate to the "specialist advisors" to reach the same conclusions, and then pave the way for the DfT to implement them with "public support". After all, how many responses from passengers defending such "lightly-used" stations would they expect to receive, and would these outweigh those wanting faster overall journey times?

Of course you may feel that this is all conspiracy theory land, and that there is absolutely nothing to worry about.  You would be entitled to your opinion, and I wish you all the best.

However, if you do happen to be a passenger at such a station, then it might be worth dropping a quick line to the DfT before 31 March 2012, just to be on the safe side.
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Btline
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2011, 11:04:53 pm »

If axing the odd branch line stop speeds up the service, more passengers will travel by rail.

Seems evidently sensible to me. There is no need for trains to stop everywhere all the time. People want to get from a to b quickly, not crawling along to let 1 person off. That is not what railways do best.

I'm not avocating the mass closure of stations, just more sensible calling patterns.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2011, 10:48:01 am »

Thats sirt of comment produces the 'Melksham' effect. Be careful what you wish for!
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« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2011, 11:00:59 am »

Look at all the request stops on the tarka line... Eventually they will vanish
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mjones
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« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2011, 11:01:47 am »

I know what you mean, but the 'Melksham effect' is the cut back of an entire route, as opposed to reducing stops on individual stations on a route. It isn't as if Melsham stops have been withdrawn from a sped-up Swindon to Westbury service. Restoring the Melksham service would bring benefits across a wider network. On the other hand, if we look at stations like Appleford, or some of the halts at the eastern end of the Cotswold line, I think there is a need for a serious consideration of the cost to the wider network of providing stops at those stations. It isn't just about time savings, it is about the use of limited capacity. I'd be very interested to know, for example, what improvements could be made to services between Didcot and Oxford, and connections to other routes at those stations, if Appleford and Culham stops were cut back or removed entirely.
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Btline
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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2011, 11:41:08 am »

Indeed- this is nothing like Melksham. Even if Melksham was on a branch, it is big enough to justify everything stopping there. Barnstaple branch- if axing the request stops clearly used by few saves time, more people from far away may use the service. At least cut them from most services.

There are some stations that simply need to go or have services cut back. eg Cotswold halts, blatantly kept open by a stupid parliamentary service. They should have gone under Beeching (like most other such halts), saved by marginal politics (like the heart of Wales line), and it's only politics preventing them being bulldozed to the ground now.

There are others that deserve better. Ashchurch should have more stops. But it is not big enough for XC voyagers to call. It's about getting the balance right.

It is scandalous that Shipton has the same level of service to Melksham. Better in fact, as Shipton's times are usable.
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« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2011, 12:37:42 pm »

I'd be very interested to know, for example, what improvements could be made to services between Didcot and Oxford, and connections to other routes at those stations, if Appleford and Culham stops were cut back or removed entirely.

Not many improvements I wouldn't have thought.  Hardly any trains stop at both stations, so you'd save around 1-2 minutes on journey time between Oxford and Didcot, and a slight net gain in capacity as a result.  Wow!

Appleford is a quiet station, no doubt about it, but Culham is actually quite busy during the peak hours with people commuting to the nearby research facility.  Take a look at its annual usage figures.  Over 55000 entries and exits - over two thirds of which are season ticket holders travelling to Culham for work.  That compares with stations like, for example Ivybridge, which is apparently worthy of half-a-dozen long distance HST services calling each weekday (annual usage of 56000).  Or Gunnislake, the terminal station on one of the hugely popular Devon and Cornish branch lines (annual usage of 51000).  Or Pershore on the Cotswold Line, a town that virtually all of the Cotswold Line trains call at (annual usage of 58700).

On that evidence, I certainly don't think Culham should be removed from the network!
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« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2011, 01:11:18 pm »

Barnstaple branch- if axing the request stops clearly used by few saves time, more people from far away may use the service.

The only way you could save time would be skipping Umberleigh, which is pointless as (a) it's the busiest station after Crediton, and (b) only saves seconds as the trains have to slow down for the adjacent crossing anyway.

Dropping stops at Copplestone, Morchard Road and Yeoford save nothing, because the trains have to pass each other at Eggesford and Crediton - and it could be argued that they might as well call at Lapford also, as the trains wait three or four minutes at Eggesford (northbound) and Crediton (southbound) for the train in the opposite direction.

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Lee
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« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2011, 02:34:50 pm »

I've been watching this topic develop with interest, as you can imagine  Grin

As I suspected it might, it has wondered off a bit. To be fair to the DfT, they did frame the question specifically on branch lines, rather than considering it in terms of "lightly-used" stations on main/secondary lines, such as Appleford, Culham or the Oxfordshire Halts.

So lets consider the question again:

Quote from: Great Western Franchise Replacement consultation document
Should branch line services continue to call at all branch line stations, or could the needs of most passengers be better met by omission of some of the intermediate stops on some or all of the trains, so that the final destination is reached more quickly?

It wont surprise you to learn that my answer is "no", but my reasoning might surprise you instead.

You see, I think a major lesson from the last few years is that the needs of most passengers have been better met by omission of some of the intermediate stops on some of the trains, but only when this has been part of an overall frequency improvement.

Lets look at the evidence:

ST IVES

When improved frequency services were introduced, the main loser was Lelant during the daytime. However, Lelant Saltings isnt that far away, and during the evening where reaching it in the hours of darkness might be an issue, trains do still call at Lelant itself.

FALMOUTH

When improved frequency services were introduced, some services were not scheduled to stop at Perranwell. However, Perranwell has still ended up with a better service overall.

NEWQUAY

The recent axing of the early morning Newquay line services may suggest that the improved frequency local services have not proved as popular as hoped. However, there is no evidence to suggest that not calling at the intermediate stations on the local services to save a few minutes has worked either.

In truth, the main driver of improving Newquay line fortunes will always be the continued development of direct summer links with London and CrossCountry destinations. Frankly, saving a few minutes on local services will have very liitle effect on the overall picture. Providing them will always be a question of social need, which is best served at present by leaving them broadly as they are.

This might change in future if the Newquay-St Austell line is ever restored, but lets face it, that prospect seems a very long way off.

LOOE

When improved frequency services were introduced, some intermediate service calls were missed out in some services, but this did not have a great impact on the overall service level provided at these stations. There have been peaks and throughs in the revisions since, but one fact seems obvious - the Looe line services will always load well during the summer, and significantly less well during the winter. This will remain the case regardless of overall journey time or calling patterns.

GUNNISLAKE

Frankly, it is difficult to see how improving the overall journey time by removing service stops would have any beneficial impact on this route. People mainly use it because in many cases it is their only means of getting to where they want to go.

I can see an important need for reduced journey times should the Tavistock link be restored, but it is likely that the infrastructure will be configured to allow all-stations Gunnislake-Plymouth and fast Tavistock-Plymouth services to co-exist.

EXMOUTH

This line has a successful, long established service pattern of 1tph all stations and 1tph limited stop. Indeed, even the "specialist advisors" who tested an outline specification in the run-up to the current franchise being awarded advised against altering this.

BARNSTAPLE

The current off-peak daytime hourly stopping pattern that TJ outlined was agreed by pretty much all the stakeholders along the route from FGW and local government right through to user groups and passengers. I cant see any obvious reason why this should be changed in the foresseeable future.

The request stops that I suspect Btline has more in his sights are the ones that arent included in the daytime hourly stopping pattern. To be frank, these have a very limited service now and are generally sparsely served (if at all) outside the peaks. Therefore the question, whether one wants to admit it or not, is should they exist at all?

Since my exit from the TransWilts campaign, I have extensively travelled on the Devon & Cornwall rail network to try and ensure I got my facts straight before the new franchise process got underway. This included getting off at the likes of Portsmouth Arms and Kings Nympton to see if anybody did actually use them. The answer is yes - not all that many I admit, but they are being used, and fulfill a clear need to those who do.

Looking at branches elsewhere on the FGW network, it would be a brave civil servant or TOC executive who risked the wrath of the locals by missing out stops on the Severn Beach Line and as far as the Thames Valley branches go, there just doesnt seem to be a case on any of them to deviate from the current calling pattern. Indeed, the debate there is likely to focus heavily on the future status of their direct links with London in the wake of electrification, Crossrail and IEP.
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« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2011, 06:12:58 pm »

I agree with most of the points but here is a minor issue:

Perranwell has a brilliant service on the branch but if you want to connect at Truro  it is useless. It should be the other hourly train that calls [the --10 rather than --40]. One only has to look at table 39, it is almost like it was done deliberately. Sadly many in the village  including myself now go to Truro especially if you are going westwards. I have contacted FGW about this on occasions and never got a sensible reply. Seems a simple thing to sort out and annoying as the train goes though the village.
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grahame
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« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2011, 06:48:19 pm »

Lee - welcome back, and many thanks for raising this topic, which I've taken the liberty of splitting of into its own thread.  It's a very important topic, I think.    I don't know the Devon / Cornwall branches like you do, but operationally I would be pretty sure you're right - a look at the timetables for them leads to the question "what could you actually save ..."

Three points if I may / questions to lead this on:

a) I have seen some quite preposterous figures quoted for the cost (financial) of stopping and restarting a train.  Is it possible that the suggestion to consider cutting out stops might be to save money rather than minutes?

b) There's a psychological adversity for some through passengers to being on a train that seems to "stop at all the shacks", even if in practise that costs hardsly any time.   Is it possible that this suggestion is a "we're speeding up the trains" publicity thing?  i.e. That this is an engineered / biased question that consultees are being asked?

c) If a heavy "yes, cut the smaller stops" response is received that certain parties could use it as an indication of public support for a closure program?
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Btline
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« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2011, 06:50:26 pm »

Axe Lelant station! Do all trains call at Carbis Bay?

Surely Coombe should be axed (or Coombe Junction Wishing well halt, or whatever it's called this week).

Newquay - surely a more frequent fast service to Plymouth would drum up passengers, perhaps stopping at a P&R station near the A30.

Smaller stations near Plymouth - run a Newton A to Liskard shuttle calling everywhere (plus a few new stations East of Plymouth). Then axe all of these stops on expresses.

Run a new service from Yate into Bristol then axe stops on the Worcesters.

Extend more OXF fasts to Charlbury then axe all Hanborough and Halts stops on Worcesters (needs re-doubling).

Axe Malvern Link, Pershore, Honeybourne and Hanborough stops on a peak train to improve journey times to kick start getting Hereford and Worcester passengers back.

Axe some Didcot Parkway stops (I believe more Up trains stop than down or v versa - make it consistant by axing stops), esp after the Cheltenham service becomes hourly.

Axe some Swindon stops when frequencies get better.

Far too many stops on B&H for expresses. The odd Westbury stop is ok for connections, but the rest need to go.

When Crossrail comes in, axe stops on the Oxfords.
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grahame
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« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2011, 07:49:03 pm »

I hope you've got a deep pocket and a generous cheque book, Btline  Grin

Quote
... a more frequent fast service ...
... a Newton A to Liskard shuttle ...
Run a new service ...
Extend more OXF fasts ...

etc.

The math of running more trains by cutting out stops and the four-time-daily run up to Coombe just doesn't add up, I'm afraid.
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Btline
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« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2011, 07:57:01 pm »

I'm thinking after IEP and with 150 cascades. Grin
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« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2011, 11:26:31 pm »

My opinion here is that it depends very much on the individual situations of the stations involved.

There are various factors that need to be taken into account, with passenger numbers not necessarily regarded as the most important. I think it might be easier to explain using examples. However there are probably more factors (that I am unaware of) so I am not sure whether these examples really would be the best way forward.

Anyway, one example which has been mentioned already is the Heart Of Wales Line (HOWL). Here, the railway is probably the least un-economical (both in financial and environmental terms) of providing any form of public transport for much of the area served by the line. As such, I expect there is an environmental case for providing stops (by request) at these stations, since they are the sole alternative to private cars. However, the potential footfall is small so any increase in the number of services should be done by introducing faster services that call only at the stations that serve more significant settlements, which I believe need a rail service with far more attractive journey times.

However, on the Pembroke Dock line there are two stations (Kilgety and Saundersfoot) which are very close together by rail but probably beyond easy walking distance of Saundersfoot itself. To create an integrated public transport network there therefore should be a rail-link bus from Saundersfoot to the railway. Since a rail-link bus is probably required anyway and the stations are so close together it might be worth running the bus to Kilgety station (perhaps adding a ^for Saundersfoot^ suffix to the name-boards) and closing Saundersfoot station. In itself the time saving from this is unlikely to be particularly helpful, however coupled with upgrading several level crossings so that the train does not have to slow to a stand before them, this may save sufficient time to path an hourly service on the branch.

I'll use HS2 as my final example, where I would very much like to see a limit to the linespeed if it is just going to be a London - Birmingham service because (particularly with the amount of fossil fuel generation in the national grid's supply) a few minutes time saving doesn't attract many more off the roads to save CO2 emissions once the road journey time is sufficiently beaten. This is not strictly relevant here, but the point is once rail has beaten the journey time of rival modes by a fairly comfortable margin, or perhaps even just equals it, there is less need for speed. Then, providing higher standards of service or comfort is perhaps a more important means of attracting custom.

Away from branch lines, there should really be more local services (and perhaps extra tracks through stations for non-stop trains to overtake stoppers) to avoid Intercity trains having to stop at the likes of Swanline stations (served by some Manchester ^Carmarthen/Milford Haven trains), and probably some stations on the Reading ^ Taunton via Westbury route, rather than closures.

Sorry, not a particularly coherent post but I hope you get the gist.
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